A role in programming offers huge variety, as the programs you’ll write, test and maintain can range from developing a method of effectively storing data for a business to creating a flight simulator for pilot training.
Because of this, you’ll have the opportunity as a programmer to work in an industry that relates to your interests and expertise. For example, you could write educational software, video games or develop a program for a specific company to carry out tasks like tracking its inventory.
As a programmer, you’ll often be referred to by the programming language you use or the type of program you develop. For example, you could be a .net programmer or web programmer. However, it is common for programmers to know more than one language, such as C++, Java or HTML, as well as more traditional languages like COBOL or Visual Basic.
Often, you’ll begin writing a program based on the specifications outlined by computer software engineers and systems analysts. They will describe how the program is to work, and from here, you’ll write the code to turn it into a working product.
On large projects, it’s likely you’ll be working in a team, writing designated sections of code. While doing so, you may be required to use assisted software engineering (CASE) tools to automate a lot of the coding process, so you can concentrate on writing your parts of the program.
Due to your in depth knowledge on the inner workings of your current projects, it’s likely you’ll become involved in writing part of the manual for the software’s use. For this, you’ll need the ability to simplify highly technical information for it to be understood by non-technical users.
IT is always evolving and so the number of opportunities and industries looking to build on their IT resources is continually increasing. Businesses in all sectors rely on technology to improve their performance, so there's a high demand for programming skills.
Once you’re a qualified programmer, you can chose to specialise in a particular field, such as C++, CNC or other similar developing languages. You may also decide you’d prefer to move towards a team management role, which is possible depending on the structure of the company.
If you’re interested in working with others, there are also routes open to become a teacher or lecturer in your specialist field.
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To become a programmer, employers will be looking for the following skills:
• In depth knowledge in one or more programming languages (e.g. PHP, .NET, HTML, C++, etc.)
• Ability to quickly learn about new IT packages and techniques
• Enjoy problem solving
• Good technical writing skills
• Ability to explain complex information in a clear manner
• Be able to work as an individual and as part of a team
• Be able to work to tight deadlines
• Work in a logical manner
Most employers will be looking for you to have a degree or equivalent qualification to become a programmer. It’s also essential for you to have qualifications in one or more programming languages such as C++ or Visual Basic. The languages you can use will often define the programming role you can work in. However, a many languages are similar, it’s possible to update your knowledge, which will open up more employment possibilities.
You can start in a more junior IT role, such as working on a helpdesk. From here, you can build up skills and experience to become a Programmer.
To help build up your qualifications, there is a range of courses available to you, including BTECs in Computer Studies or IT, SQAs in IT, NVQs and SVQs and specialist IT, computer and programming degrees.
When you join a company, you’ll probably be given a starter course to get you up to speed with the company and all its systems and procedures. This is essential as you’ll need to know how everything works before you can begin to improve on it and solve problems.
Many employers will encourage you to go on courses, depending on your knowledge and experience and the needs of the organisation. If it gets new resources or requires a new form of programming for example, they may send you on a course to gain the necessary skills.
If you’re looking to move into a different field of programming, you can learn to use various new languages. This can either be achieved by self tuition or by going on a recognised course to increase your skills.
Hours and environment
Programmers typically work 37-40 hours a week, between 9am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday. This may vary if there's a large project with a tight deadline taking place. The time you spend on a project will vary widely depending on what the project is. Some may take just a few hours, whereas others, such as a video game, may take years of development.
Most of the time your work will be based at a desk within the office, but to carry out tasks such as testing, you may have to travel to various locations to make sure everything is working correctly.
A starting salary for programmers is around £23,000, which rises to nearer £40,000 with experience. The most senior programmers can earn in excess of £50,000.
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